E-book details Wecht cases, including 2 from Western Pennsylvania
Dawna Kaufmann, a self-described true-crime junkie, remembers channel-surfing at home in Los Angeles and becoming enthralled by “Dear Zachary,” a documentary on the bizarre tale of a California native killed by a spurned lover in a Pennsylvania park.
When Kaufmann saw that Dr. Andrew Bagby was a resident at Latrobe Area Hospital when he was killed in Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County, she immediately telephoned Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh and her co-author on two crime-related books.
“I told him we've got to do something on that one,” Kaufmann said.
The story is told in “Final Exams: True Crime Cases from Cyril Wecht,” an e-book published by Planet Ann Rule that details four “twisty mysteries.”
Kaufmann, a former comedy writer with Saturday Night Live, MADtv and The Arsenio Hall Show, said Wecht has a “wonderful gift” of reducing scientific, technical jargon into layman's term.
“Hell Hath No Fury ...” recounts the murder of Bagby, whose body was found on Nov. 6, 2001. Wecht figured there would soon be a trial for the accused killer, a physician who was working in Iowa.
But Dr. Shirley Turner fled to Canada and used its laws to thwart extradition, especially when she revealed she was pregnant with the victim's son.
Wecht describes the brutality of the murder: “Dr. Bagby's killer was at least 18 inches from him when he was first shot. The bullets hit his chest and face in rapid succession, although it's impossible to know which came first.”
The killer shot Bagby five times and then kicked him in the head while he laid on the ground, Wecht would have testified. “I would also, in no uncertain terms, discuss the purposeful way the killer fired again and again and again and again and again, and cite my theory of how the forceful head blow could not have been attained in any innocent fashion. This was a cold-blooded attack and the victim needed justice,” he said.
Turner thought she covered her tracks, Wecht said. She shot Bagby and immediately drove almost 1,000 miles to her home in Iowa. Police traced her movements by tracking her cellphone's signal.
Kate and David Bagby, deprived of their only child, were forced to deal with their son's murderer if they wanted to see their only grandchild. Canada officials gave Turner custody of baby Zachary.
When readers think it can't get worse, it does, Kaufman wrote. Turner, on the verge of being forced to face trial and cast aside by another man, drugged the baby, strapped him to her chest and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean, killing them both.
“That Bagby death was indeed an incredible tragedy, especially with the death of that baby. It was just horrible,” Wecht recalled.
The Yelenic case
The book also details another murder in Western Pennsylvania.
“A Cousin's Quest” describes the struggle of Mary Ann Clark of Blairsville to see her beloved cousin's killer put behind bars. It describes the murder of affable dentist John J. Yelenic Jr. and the trial of his killer, former state police trooper Kevin Foley.
It delves into Yelenic's nasty divorce proceedings with Michele Yelenic, who later moved in with Foley, and their court fights over insurance, property and child custody.
Wecht testified against Foley during a 2009 trial. He is now serving a sentence of life in prison.
Yelenic suffered slashing wounds, most likely caused by the blade of a knife, before his head was forced through a window pane in the front door of his Blairsville home on April 13, 2006, Wecht told jurors.
“It was a carving. Not to be insensitive, but that's what you'd have to be doing to inflict those types of wounds to the chest, ear and cheek,” Wecht testified.
Yelenic probably lived six to seven minutes after glass cut his right jugular vein, Wecht told jurors.
Wecht said he was impressed by Clark's persistence in avenging her cousin's murder, the work of Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek and the investigators to prosecute the case, and the DNA experts who tied Foley to the slaying.
“You know they had a damn good idea who was behind it early on. They first go to the spouse or girlfriend, and the job (Pittsburgh DNA expert) Mark Perlin did was really impressive,” Wecht said.
“The Willing Victim” describes Wecht's work on the case of successful Manhattan motivational guru Jeffrey B. Locker, who induced an inner-city stranger named Kenneth Minor into killing him. “The Girl in the Pink Hat” tells the story of Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old girl from Florida who was kidnapped and murdered by a predator.
Kaufmann said she is amazed at Wecht's career of more than five decades, personally performing more than 18,000 autopsies and consulting worldwide on more than 38,000 others.
“He's the smartest and most decent person I know. He genuinely cares about people and their lives,” Kaufmann said. “He keeps so busy, he makes everyone else seem as if they're standing still.”
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.